What is the origin of this innovation? Tell us your story.
It would be in the commitment of the social underprivileged sectors of the society. Since I was young, while I was doing volunteer social work in neighborhoods of my city, I was wondering why some people did have enough to cover their necessities and others, because they were born in a specific place and environment, didn’t have right for anything except suffering the hostility of a family environment that would end in reformatories and prisons. It’s an irony that these people have no other alternative than prison.
In 1980 I started to work in a prison. It was no surprise in theory: It was the common idea that a citizen had of what it is a prison. But another thing was to live the pure and hard reality, the prison as a school of delinquency, as values’, illusions’ and hope’s extermination camp.
To find an explanation, an answer and a solution to this it wasn’t a sensitivity and commitment problem, it was a mental health one, because this reality hurts the professionals who also suffer from “the prisonization effect”.
In prisons there are only victims: victims of their family and social environment, victims of themselves. Professionals are also victims that turn sometimes into tyrants inside the penitentiary environment.
After this thinking, one arrives to the conclusion that the innovative idea is the result of the process, history, journey, an attitude change before life.
But of course, this project doesn’t’ come from a more or less good thinking but from the experience of many years of work, looking for the more vulnerable points to generate ways to debilitate the system and open a way of hope and transformation of the system.
Since the beginning I had a clear goal: to win the trust of the inmates and to establish with them a dynamic of participation that allowed them be protagonists of the possible improvements that were needed. So, in the course of many years, I have been developing different social-cultural dinamization projects.
After years of experience I realized that there was an insuperable limitation, not only for me but for the whole penitentiary system that it was the appearance of the drug inside the system. So there is a change in the profile that gets into prisons.
The dynamic of life in prisons dance around drugs: there are drug addicts and mafias that get organized inside the prisons.
Intervention programs are eclipsed by the new reality that dominates and controls the penitentiary. The means used in the institution (educating, occupational and productive activities) are not well used. The only goal is to use them to get more penitentiary benefits.
In this context, in 1992, Begoña, a social worker partner, and I started the process that leaded us to the creation of the UTE in the old Oviedo prison (Asturias).
The project started with five inmates who formed a group which today is called “Therapeutic Group”.
The work model of UTE is not only focused on the inmate but it’s extended to the environmental context, the prison, eliminating the penitentiary sub-culture and creating a sanitated space where the intervention is possible and guarantees a positive process of change in the inmates.
In this journey I have proved that the intervention developed in different penitentiary systems is insufficient because it doesn’t give a comprehensive answer to the situation of the private person in freedom. We can only talk about authentic social rehabilitation processes from a comprehensive answer that embrace the individual and its environment.